January 28

March 15, 2020

CST’s Courtyard Theater

book, music & lyrics by Paul Gordon
adapted from the novel by Jane Austen
directed by Barbara Gaines

Playgoer's Guide


Emma Woodhouse, rich, beautiful, and supremely confident in her own matchmaking abilities, mourns the loss of her former governess and dearest companion—now married, thanks to Emma, to Mr. Weston. To cheer herself up, Emma resolves to now focus on another match, despite the protestations of her father and a close family friend, Mr. Knightley.

The young Harriet Smith will be the perfect match for the town’s most eligible bachelor, Mr. Elton, the vicar. Emma persuades Harriet to refuse local farmer Robert Martin’s proposal, despite the young woman’s deep feelings for him. Furious at Emma’s arrogance, Mr. Knightley views Mr. Elton as a social climber who will never marry without hope of advancement—a prediction proved true as Mr. Elton proposes marriage not to Harriet but to Emma. Rejecting him outright, Emma suggests he turn his attentions to Harriet instead. Humiliated, Mr. Elton flees Highbury, only to return with his well-to-do bride in hand.

The arrival of Frank Churchill, Mr. Weston’s estranged son, further disrupts Emma’s comfortable world. As she is ensnared by Mr. Churchill’s flirtation, Emma watches Harriet fall head over heels for Mr. Knightley and only now begins to realize that she, in fact, might be quite clueless about affairs of the heart, after all.



In 1815 Jane Austen’s fourth novel, Emma, followed close on the heels of Sense and Sensibility (1811), Pride and Prejudice (1813), and Mansfield Park (1814), and was likewise published anonymously. To protect her reputation, Austen published Emma as written “by the author of Pride and Prejudice.” Only Austen’s family knew of her published identity, and they carefully preserved her anonymity until her death in 1817.

For many readers, their first encounter with the author is Pride and Prejudice. Yet most critics and scholars agree that Emma is Austen’s true masterpiece. Austen’s Emma has inspired countless retellings, including Amy Heckerling’s 1995 teen movie mega-hit Clueless, a 1996 film version starring Gwyneth Paltrow in the eponymous role, and, more recently, Paul Gordon’s musical adaptation. A new film adaptation, directed by Autumn de Wilde, is scheduled for release this winter. Scholars argue Jane Austen was at the height of her powers when she wrote Emma, the last of her works published during her lifetime.

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